White Trash, Squaw, Nigger, Untouchable, Kike …

This week on the Just for Laughs 30th Anniversary, host George Stroumbolopoulas and the comedians commented on racism, highlighting that the one group many people, who will not use words such as squaw or nigger these days, have no problem trashing are “white trash.”

“White trash” just don’t live in stereotypical trailer parks; they are anyone who is poor, especially when other people judge them as capable of being and achieving more, especially if they live on some sort of assistance or even on the streets.

But no one is trash because everyone is valuable; the trash is our own thinking that labels people in derogatory ways, making such people feel they are less than what they are … people, who more than most of us, need to feel valued and valuable, RESPECTED so they will find the internal strength to overcome their specific challenges.

We do not know what a person has experienced in their life, though I know from experience and research, that when you don’t value yourself high enough to have good boundaries and to take good care of yourself, others don’t value you either and they will take advantage in many ways, including making one feel bad for not having a high enough RESPECT LEVEL to withstand all the assaults and to live according to their standards.

In my lifetime, I have been called “squaw,” though at the time I was a non-prejudiced teen who believed one of the most beautiful girls I had ever seen was a Native American girl in one of my high school classrooms. We did have similarities, though I felt ugly. My long dark hair, aquiline nose, which I later had changed due to an increasing lower and lower RESPECT LEVEL, and skin that tanned deep and dark elicited from some people, especially guys, in my hometown of Wallaceburg, just six miles from the Walpole Island Reserve, the nickname “squaw.” I didn’t realize it was an insult at the time … I even thought it was a complement, but little did I know about the prejudicial malice behind the word. (I’ve since discovered I really do have Native American blood in my veins from my Grandmother’s grandmother … and I couldn’t be more proud …)

The label “white trash” has been with me several times in my life, once verbally, but mostly it has been experienced and felt by people’s judgment and behavior towards me, especially when, to their minds, I have been irresponsible or even reckless. Like Malcolm Gladwell writes about his own experience that inspired him to write Blink, repeatedly I have been mistaken as someone else, in part because I learned to be a chameleon so I would not stand out in some of the places my low RESPECT LEVEL has taken me … so I would be safe.

Like Malcolm, I was even pulled over by the police one day while walking because they were on the lookout for a woman with the length and colour of my hair because I lived in a low-income area where they expected to find her.

Another time, I was accused of shoplifting in a local grocery store because my different behavior in the grocery store made them question what I was doing. I didn’t have much money so I would often walk through the whole store to find the best deals, specials and reduced items, before deciding what I would buy. In hindsight and even foresight, because I often still revert to that way of shopping even when I have enough money to buy what I want, I appreciate they misunderstood my behavior and assumed my behavior was be something it was not. Which is why, at the time, I was shocked and insulted when I was approached by a store clerk after I had left the store and crossed the street. For one thing, I knew after working in retail management myself dealing with shoplifters, he should have stopped me in the parking lot. Second, instead of taking me back into the store’s office, the man asked me to open my bag and purse as soon as we got back in the grocery store … to make a scene in front of all the staff and customers for something I may have done. With only a shred of confidence, I made him take me to the office instead, where I drew in a witness, other than him, who would verify I was falsely accused when I emptied my bags. Walking through those doors again took a great deal of courage, but at the time, other grocery stores were far away and required bus fare or very long walks.

Perhaps again, it was a case of mistaken identity, for I found when I moved to that area where I lived for five years, many people called me an unfamiliar name and look confused when I told them my name. Becoming a chameleon, it turned out, did not save me, but caused me more harm in unexpected ways.

Yes, I have done some things I am not proud of, that I would take back if given a do-over, but guilty until proven innocent is the reality for white trash because assumptions are made. As the saying goes, until we have walked in someone else’s shoes and I’ll add, lived inside their mind and heart, we have no right to judge … nor label so cruelly.

White Trash, Squaw, Nigger, Untouchable, Kike … it matters not the words we say as much as it reveals the fear, prejudice, and even hate in our hearts for those not like us. Still … the words hurt … until our RESPECT LEVELS are raised enough so such cruelty can be walked away from and even forgiven with the knowledge that those throwing such daggers have received daggers themselves … and they are still stuck in their hearts.

Let’s help everyone and ourselves by throwing away the labels and not the people. Let’s agree to raise not ony our RESPECT LEVELS for ourselves and others, but also our COMPASSION LEVELS too.

K.A.TREPANIER
All Rights Reserved
Connecting the Dots … with The RESPECT PRINCIPLE
April 28, 2013

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